The Soviet born singer Oleg Gazmanov (born 1951) presents a poly-ethnic approach to Russia in his song SDELAN V SSSR (Born in the USSR) from 2005. Drawing on nostalgia for the Soviet past he includes states of the former Soviet Union – provoking some of the neighboring countries that have a different view of that past.
Having had some major hits in the late 1980s and 1990s Oleg Gazmanov emerged as an artist with close ties to Moscow’s former mayor Iurii Luzhkov and the Kremlin (amongst others having received the Soviet-era title “People’s Artist” by Vladimir Putin in 2002) and playing repeatedly for army veterans as well as giving concerts commemorating the Soviet Union and Russia’s (military) might (cf. Arvedlund 2005).
His 12th album Sdelan v SSSR and the eponymous song can be considered part of the latter part of his career. Finding information on the exact release date is difficult. While a Gazmanov fan website states December 8th, 2005 (Webmaster 2005) other release dates mentioned are December 18th, 2005 (cf. Fandeev 2005 – the site is a compilation of Russian show business news) and June 20th, 2005 (N.N. 2014b – iTunes’ page for the album).
The song itself, which was copyrighted in 2004, was, however, released before the album – and heard on radio rotation in the spring of 2005 (the radio tracker Tophit has March 22rd, 2005 as the date when the song entered radio rotation in their database – Contemporary Media Technologies 2014 with a search for “Gazmanov” and “Sdelan v SSSR”). Included on the album was also a video clip of the song directed by Oleg Gusev, which according to the Gazmanov Youtube-Channel was filmed in 2004 (cf. Gazmanov 2013).
Although seemingly putting Russia on a path towards a booming economic recovery based on a surge in oil and gas prices during his first tenures, President Vladimir Putin at the same time stoked national sentiments by reminding the citizens of the Russian Federation (and the world) that Russia remains a superpower. The result was not only a positive patriotism, but also a (borderline) chauvinistic nationalism. Besides relations to the Baltic states, which have been problematic since the 1990s, two new thorns appeared with the 2003 Rose Revolution in Georgia headed by Mikhail Saakashvili and the 2004 Orange Revolution in Ukraine headed by Viktor Lushchenko and Iuliia Tymoshenko – with popular music playing a supporting role in both revolutions. This – especially in the relationship to Georgia – has been combined with a xenophobic stance towards migrant workers from primarily the Caucasus region. A first culmination occurred in 2006, a year, which was witness to two large-scale anti-migrant events: The arrest of four alleged Russian spies in Georgia resulted in an en-masse deportation of Georgian migrant workers on charges of not having valid papers. The second event was an anti-migrant pogrom following the death of two Russians in an interethnic pub brawl in Kondopoga (Karelia, North-East of St. Petersburg). Furthermore, the eastward expansion of NATO – with former members of the Warsaw Pact joining the alliance – has also created much concern and anger – especially towards the United States – on the governmental level, which has trickled down to the people, too.
While it is easy to describe these developments in Russia as examples of new forms of chauvinist nationalism based on Russia’s post-colonial situation (with the Soviet republics as former colonies), the issues are more complex and nurtured by multiple factors besides a recurring national pride. Such issues include the need for a continuous experience of common history, the dominating role of Russia within the Soviet Union, a reaction to the chaotic post-Soviet realities of the 1990s, and the new economic achievements – all factors which have contributed to a new wave of nostalgia for the Soviet Union and imperial Russia (cf. Wickström/Steinholt 2009; Wickström 2011).
Two songs on the album Sdelan v SSSR actively draw on this. While the opening track “Novaia Zaria” (New Daybreak / Start) deals with the economic and social problems of Russia (e.g. corruption) and calls for a new start the final track SDELAN V SSSR addresses the country’s experience of common history with the former Soviet republics from a Russian (i.e. nostalgic) perspective.
SDELAN V SSSR can easily be read (if not misread) as blunt Great-Russian nationalism. The song begins with the following words (my translation and transcription): “Ukraine and the Crimea, Belarus and Moldova / That is my country / Sakhalin and Kamchatka, the Ural mountains / That is my country / The Krasnoiarsk Territory, Siberia, and the Volga Region / Kazakhstan and the Caucasus, and the Baltic States as well.” Obviously, the country that spans from Ukraine and the Baltic states to Kamchatka and Sakhalin disintegrated in 1991, and many of the area’s inhabitants will violently oppose being called citizens of Gazmanov’s country. The lyrics, accompanied by a sing-along melody, a medium tempo, and a rhythmic structure with clear accents, continue to describe the protagonist’s pride in his home country. They are organized around the listing of names. First come geographical names, then famous people, organizations, institutions, industry products, and events (e.g. Lenin, Stalin, Gagarin, Pushkin, torpedoes, KGB). These chains each contribute to defining the endeared nation, as summarized in each final verse line: “That/This is my country”. The refrain proceeds to make the already obvious explicit: “I was born in the Soviet Union, I was made in the USSR”.
Melodically the guitar introduction alludes to a (national) anthem and is backed by keyboard, bass, and a drum groove, which accents the cymbals and high-hat – in a manner alluding to official pomp. The first part of the song evokes the feeling of a live stadium concert, the middle part moves towards a rap recitative, and the refrain has vocal overlays of a mass audience singing along with Gazmanov. This stadium feeling is enhanced by adding reverb to signify a vast space, by keeping the accompaniment slightly uncoordinated to imitate a live performance, and a cheering crowd joining in the refrain and the verse response lines. The participation is encouraged both by the beat of the rhythm section, where the snare clearly accents the two and four for clapping hands, as well as structurally (after the introduction and the first refrain, where only the drum’s basic groove is played). Simultaneously, in the video the band members encouragingly clap their hands.
While the musical features stress the participatory aspect of the song (creating a communal experience), the images stress the central message of the lyrics: being a proud Soviet-Russian citizen. This is reflected in the band’s outfits, which includes printed shirts and scarves advertising “Rossiia” (Russia) and “SSSR”, Soviet army symbols, hammer and sickle, as well as the Russian Federation’s coat of arms – the double-headed eagle. The theme colors are the national red, white, and blue and audience members are shown waving Russian flags. Gazmanov’s outfit also embodies a post-Soviet reality and, arguably, a pre-Revolutionary Russia. He wears a barely noticeable Russian-Orthodox cross next to a dog tag, thus uniting the Pre-Soviet, Soviet, and post-Soviet in one continuous entity.
Body movements in the video support the lyrics: “It is my country”, which is repeated in all the verses, is accompanied by hand movements or clapping. In the first chorus, during Gazmanov’s repetition of the line “I was made in the USSR”, the keyboard-player points to the letters “SSSR” on his shirt in sync with the lyrics. Finally, the highly energetic performance of the song is reflected in the video’s accelerating clip-rate, showing the enthusing audience being brought to a boil.
While on the surface the performance is close to Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the U.S.A.” (similar music style, almost same refrain), Springsteen’s song is clearly critical – especially of the Vietnam war and how Vietnam veterans were treated. This is also underlined in the video clip of the song – cf. also Born in the U.S.A..
Nostalgia for the Soviet era appears to be strongest in the Russian Federation and ethnic Russians within the post-Soviet space. Seen in the light of the historical Russian hegemony of the USSR, and of recent, more vulgar forms of great-Russian national chauvinism, the song’s merging of the USSR and the Russian Federation may easily be taken as an example of the latter. Still, positive national pride and patriotism, a celebration of common history and achievements, and love for the motherland is not necessarily incompatible with a longing for peaceful poly-ethnic unity. The desire for a peaceful community is expressed in the recitative’s two final lines, where Gazmanov questions how the other former Soviet republics can get along without Russia: “The borders are choking us, can’t go without a visa / How do you get along without us, please let us know, friends!”, which is followed by a bar of musical silence while the crowd keeps cheering and the echo of the phrase fades out.
This jibe at the visa regimes between former Soviet republics points back to a perceived golden era of harmonic Soviet co-existence under Russian supervision, where cultural contacts were close and popular singers of various republics made up the Soviet “estrada” (official pop) – to which Gazmanov also belongs. The timing of the song’s release in 2005 is important since it follows the color revolutions in Georgia and Ukraine as well as the implementation of a visa regime to the Baltic States and Georgia – in other words, an intensification of the post-Soviet (post-colonial) division between Russia and some former Soviet republics.
These events also reflect that on the other side of the borders former Soviet republics, especially the Baltic States, Ukraine, and Georgia, do not necessarily subscribe to such a rosy view of what they perceive as the colonial past. Seeing a possibility to distance themselves from Russian and Soviet hegemony, many have been de-russifying national history and limiting the role of Russian as an official language since the collapse of the Soviet Union. This in turn has angered the Russian government, thus intensifying the rift. In Russia forms of national identity can range on a continuum between ethnic and supra-national. While Alisa’s approach (cf. Nebo Slavian) mostly evokes a national identity, which tends towards an ethno-religious concept (Slavs and Russian-Orthodox faith), Gazmanov’s SDELAN V SSSR tends more towards a regional supra-national identity based on the Soviet Union.
Gazmanov’s song is also fully compatible with the government-induced positive patriotism and Putin’s reclaiming of an indiscriminate historical pride, while making sure to include references to Russian-Orthodox Christianity and to portray himself as a Russian-Orthodox believer (cf. Alisa’s Nebo Slavian).
Thus, Gazmanov reflects the desire of a common heritage based on a shared imperial past, mainly the Soviet past, but pre-revolutionary national figures are included and serve to underline Russia’s leading role.
Besides being included in his concert sets to this day the song went into radio rotation in the spring of 2005. After the album release Gazmanov was accused by the Soviet/Russian group DDT’s singer and songwriter Iurii Shevchuk of plagiarizing DDT’s song “Rozhdennyi v SSSR” (Born in the USSR). Gazmanov responded to this that Shevchuk plagiarized Springsteen’s “Born in the USA” (cf. Lapteva 2006; Andreev 2007; Webmaster 2006).
The main impact, however, was that the song caused strong reactions in the neighboring Baltic States. The resentment towards the Soviet Union’s occupation and incorporation of the states during World War II was (and still is) felt there as well as in Ukraine (cf. Arvedlund 2005; Rykovtseva 2005).
This resentment continues until this day – periodically flaring up as during the official celebration of the Russian constitution’s 20th anniversary on December 12th, 2013. Here Gazmanov performed the song at the Kremlin party after the official ceremony which included a speech by Putin – causing an outrage by the visiting Lithuanian and Latvian guests (cf. Pomerantsev 2013; Managing Editor 2013). Two weeks later Gazmanov performed the song in Vilnius causing another minor scandal (cf. Samoshkaite 2013). The most recent development is that due to his stance against Ukraine Gazmanov ‒ along with other Russian artists ‒ was banned from entering Latvia in July 2014 (N.N. 2014a).
Vocals: Oleg Gazmanov
Music/ Writer/ Songwriting: Oleg Gazmanov
Label: Grand Records
- DDT. Rozhdennyi v SSSR, 1997, DDT Records, BD 594, Russia (CD/Album).
- Oleg Gazmanov. “Sdelan v SSSR”, Sdelan v SSSR, 2005, Grand Records, GR CD-439, Russia (CD/Album).
- Springsteen, Bruce. “Born in the U.S.A.”, Born in the U.S.A, 1984, Columbia, QC 38653, USA (Vinyl/LP/Album).
- Wickström, David-Emil: Okna otkroi! – Open the windows! Scenes, transcultural flows, and identity politics in popular music from Post-Soviet St. Petersburg. Soviet and Post-Soviet Politics and Society. Stuttgart: ibidem-Verlag 2011.
- Wickström, David-Emil, and Yngvar Bordewich Steinholt. 2009. Visions of the (holy) Motherland in contemporary Russian popular music: Nostalgia, patriotism, religion and russkii rok. In: Popular Music and Society 32/3 (2009), Popular Music in the Post-Soviet Space, 313-330.
- Andreev, Sergei 2007. Iurii Shevchuk: Gazmanovu ia predlozhil vstretit’sia v temnom pereulke. Komsomol’skaia Pravda, 25.09. URL: http://www.kp.ru/daily/23973/7373 [04.08.2014].
- Arvedlund, Erin E. 2005. Celebrating the U.S.S.R. in Song, Uncle Joe and All. New York Times, 07.05. URL: http://www.nytimes.com/2005/05/07/international/europe/07gazmanov.html [04.08.2014].
- Contemporary Media Technologies. 2014. Search. tophit.ru. URL: http://www.tophitru.com/search.shtml [04.08.2014].
- Fandeev, Nikolai. 2005. Novosti Shou-Biznesa – dekabr’ 2005. URL: http://www.fandeeff.narod.ru/news/news1205.htm [04.08.2014].
- Gazmanov, Oleg. 2013. Oleg Gazmanov – Sdelan v SSSR. Youtube. URL: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=coeH02wg4lE (added by Oleg Gazmanov, 01.11.2013) [04.08.2014].
- Lapteva, Elena. 2006. Oleg Gazmanov: Shevchuk razmenivaet svoi talant na deshevyi piar! Komsomol’skaia Pravda, 15.03. URL: http://www.kp.ru/daily/23673/50865/ [04.08.2014].
- Managing Editor. 2013. Lithuanians stunned by pro-USSR song on Russian Constitution 20th song-on-russian-constitution-20th-anniversary-201359434/ [04.08.2014].
- N.N. 2014a. Russian Pop Stars Banned From Entering Latvia Over Ukraine Crisis. The Moscow Times, 21.07. URL: http://www.themoscowtimes.com/news/article/russian-pop-stars-banned-from-entering-latvia-over-ukraine-crisis/503849.html [04.08.2014].
- N.N. 2014b. Sdelan v SSSR (Oleg Gazmanov). iTunes. URL: https://itunes.apple.com/ru/album/sdelan-v-sssr/id671444901 [04.08.2014].
- Pomerantsev, Peter. 2013. Born in the USSR. London Review of Books, 19.12. URL: http://www.lrb.co.uk/blog/2013/12/19/peter-pomerantsev/born-in-the-ussr/ [04.08.2014].
- Rykovtseva, Elena. 2005. ‘Sdelan v SSSR’ kak gimn nostal’gii? Oleg Gazmanov v diskussii s zhurnalistami i slushateliami Radio Svoboda. Radio Svoboda. URL: http://archive.svoboda.org/programs/pr/2005/pr.041505.asp [04.08.2014].
- Samoshkaite, Elge. 2013. V polnom zale Vil’niusa Gazmanov ispolnil ‘Sdelan v SSSR’. Delfi, 29.12. URL: http://ru.delfi.lt/archive/article.php?id=63630610 [04.08.2014].
- Springsteen, Bruce. 2011. Bruce Springsteen – Born In The U.S.A. Youtube. URL: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EPhWR4d3FJQ (added by BruceSpringsteenVEVO, 10.03.2011) [05.08.2014].
- Webmaster. 2005. 8 dekabria 2005 goda – den’ rozhdeniia novogo al’boma ‘Sdelan v SSSR’. Gazmanov Oleg – Oleg Gazmanov Homepage. URL: http://www.gazmanov.nm.ru/news86.htm [04.08.2014].
- Webmaster. 2006. Istoriia o tom, kak possorili’s Iurii Iulianovich i Oleg Mikhailovich. Gazmanov Oleg – Oleg Gazmanov Homepage. URL: http://www.gazmanov.nm.ru/news86.htm [04.08.2014].
About the Author
All contributions by David-Emil Wickström
David-Emil Wickström: “Sdelan v SSSR (Oleg Gazmanov)”. In: Songlexikon. Encyclopedia of Songs. Ed. by Michael Fischer, Fernand Hörner and Christofer Jost, http://www.songlexikon.de/songs/sdelanvsssr, 04/2015 [revised 11/2015].Print